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"Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov

For those of you Nabokov fans, the wait is over!  Who'd have thought a book about pedophelia would be in such high demand?  Well, that's what I thought when I first heard about Lolita... until I read it a few years ago.  My mother was scandalised that I even had the book in my bag.  But wow, Nabokov sure knows how to write, I don't care what the subject is!  This is truly a fantastic book, so I'm happy to add it to our roster for this year.  Thanks to everyone who has recommended that we read it!

Here's a wonderful review from The Atlantic:

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov

A review by Charles Rolo

Here it is at last, Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita (Putnam, $5.00)--first issued in 1955 by an unorthodox Paris press after being rejected by a string of American publishers; banned by the French government, presumably out of solicitude for immature English-speaking readers (the ban was later quashed by the French High Court); pronounced unobjectionable by that blue-nosed body, the U. S. Customs office; and heralded by ovations from writers, professors, and critics on both sides of the Atlantic.

The novel's scandal-tinted history and its subject--the affair between a middle-aged sexual pervert and a twelve-year-old girl--inevitably conjure up expectations of pornography. But there is not a single obscene term inLolita, and aficionados of erotica are likely to find it a dud.Lolita blazes, however, with a perversity of a most original kind. For Mr. Nabokov has distilled from his shocking material hundred-proof intellectual farce. His book is slightly reminiscent of Thomas Mann's Confessions of Felix Krull; but Lolita has a stronger charge of comic genius and is more brilliantly written. Mr. Nabokov, a Russian émigré now working in his second tongue, has few living equals as a virtuoso in the handling of the English language.

A mock sententious foreword explains that the manuscript which follows is the confession of one Humbert Humbert, who died in captivity in 1952 just before his trial was due to start. Humbert introduces himself as a European of mixed stock who, at the age of twelve, "in a princedom by the sea," loved and lost a petite fille fatale named Annabel Leigh, and has thereafter remained in sexual bondage to "the perilous magic" of subteen sirens--he calls them "nymphets." There follows a sketch of his tortured career up to the time when, in his late thirties, he settles in a quiet New England town (an American uncle has left him a legacy, and he dabbles in scholarship) under the same roof as a fatally seductive nymphet, Dolores Haze--a mixture of "tender dreamy childishness and eerie vulgarity." This "Lolita" is the daughter of his landlady, whom he marries with murderous intent. But an accident eliminates Mrs. Haze, and Humbert the Nympholept finds himself the guardian of his darling, who, on their first night together, turns out to be utterly depraved and plays the role of seducer. Their weird affair--which carries them on a frenzied motel-hopping trek across the American continent--is climaxed by Lolita's escape with a playwright and Humbert's eventual revenge on his rival.

What is one to make of Lolita? In a prickly postscript to the novel, Mr. Nabokov dismisses this question as a problem dreamed up by "Teachers of Literature": he rejects the satiric interpretations which critics have put uponLolita and asserts, in effect, that it is simply a story he had to get off his chest. That all of this is too ingenuous by half is evident from the parodic style in which Lolita is written: a combination of pastiches of well-known styles, spoofing pedantry, analysis of passion à la français, Joycean word games, puns, and all kinds of verbal play. Wild, fantastic, wonderfully imaginative, it is a style which parodies everything it touches. It surely justifies, at least in part, those critics who have seen in Lolita a satire of the romantic novel, of "Old Europe" in contact with "Young America," or of "chronic American adolescence and shabby materialism." But above all Lolita seems to me an assertion of the power of the comic spirit to wrest delight and truth from the most outlandish materials. It is one of the funniest serious novels I have ever read; and the vision of its abominable hero, who never deludes or excuses himself, brings into grotesque relief the cant, the vulgarity, and the hypocritical conventions that pervade the human comedy. 

New to the Hungry Hundred Book Club? Here's what you need to know:

1. Read the book (If you don't manage to finish it by the meetup date, don't worry.  As long as you're not going to be too disappointed by spoilers, you're still welcome to join.)

2. Come to the meeting, always on the last Sunday of every month.  Due to the constant change in numbers, the venue will be announced the week of the meeting.

3. Be prepared to order food/drink at the venue (where ever that may be) to show our appreciation for letting us use their space. This is a requirement. A lot of time and effort is put into finding a place that will accommodate our group without an outrageous minimum charge or rental fee, and you'll never be asked to contribute to organiser fees, so the least you can do is purchase something at the venue.

4. Discuss!  It's a casual conversation, so don't be afraid to ask questions and let us know what you think.

Join or login to comment.

  • Shakeel

    Hello guys! It was my first meetup tonight. I really enjoyed the conversation we had. Thanks to organizers for nice arrangements. Looking forward for more interesting sessions.

    May 25, 2015

  • Sophia K.

    Hey guys, I had a great time at this Bookclub session. Felt like we could have discussed Lolita for hours more.
    Rachel, thanks again for being such a great organizer.

    2 · May 25, 2015

  • Kashmira

    Sorry couldn't make it. Still stuck with the previous engagement

    May 24, 2015

  • Achsania R.

    Sorry cannot make it as well

    May 24, 2015

  • Shivani

    sorry, can't make it!

    May 24, 2015

  • Rachel

    There's still time to update your RSVP! Please do so now asap if you're not coming to the meeting tonight. Thanks!!

    May 24, 2015

  • Ashutosh

    Sorry travelling on Sunday now! Have a great discussion!

    May 22, 2015

  • Rachel

    Hi everyone, this event has been up for a long time and I'm sure that some people who reserved months ago are now unable to make it. We're lucky to have a GREAT venue with a room all to ourselves, but they still need to know how many people to expect. So PLEASE update you rsvp if there's even a chance you won't be able to go. It's much better to say "yes" at the last minute than "no".

    1 · May 20, 2015

    • Mark

      I suspect a lot of people will unfortunately take your last sentence to mean the opposite of what you intend it to mean.

      1 · May 21, 2015

  • Jeyan

    So where is the meet going to happen ?

    May 18, 2015

    • Andrew

      The venue will be decided and announced by the organiser soon.

      1 · May 19, 2015

    • Rachel

      Just waiting for the venue to confirm, I'll post as soon as they do.

      1 · May 20, 2015

  • Rachel

    Hi everyone, I just realized today that I'm actually flying back to the U.S. On the 31, so I had to change the meetup date to the 24th. Sorry for the change, I really hope you can all still make it. I know a lot of people are looking forward to this discussion!

    1 · April 29, 2015

    • Michael W.

      The 24th works for me as I was not able to attend on the 31st. I hope we still get a good turnout. Now I must get a copy of the book since I gave my last copy away :)

      April 29, 2015

    • Michael W.

      Hi All, so sorry to miss the Lolita discussion on Sunday as I have a work event I must attend that evening. I wish you a stimulating discussion.

      May 20, 2015

  • Khairunnisa A.

    Hi Alan - you can try amazon, they do express shipping

    May 14, 2015

    • Michael W.

      I think your only option is to order an ebook online

      May 14, 2015

    • Amber

      I have found an app called Carousell where there are quite a few copies of Lolita on sale. I can help to buy on your behalf and maybe meet-up to pass you the book if any of you have problem getting hold of a copy. Let me know!

      May 15, 2015

  • Alan D.

    Dear book lovers! I need help to find the book named the one hour china book! Any of u know where i can dind to buy in singapore??

    May 13, 2015

    • Andrew

      Try the Kinokuniya bookstore located at Ngee Ann City.
      Or alternatively, you can try searching it through Carousell (A Cell Phone App for people to buy/sell preowned/new items)

      May 14, 2015

  • Andrew

    I finished this book in January. And I have to say that this book is a synthesis of intrigue and repungance.
    Really looking forward to hear what other readers have to say about this unique book.

    March 2, 2015

  • Mark

    Hi Rachel, don't you think it would be a good idea to delete the second-last paragraph, "A mock sententious foreword..." ?

    That paragraph basically gives away THE ENTIRE PLOT! Everything including plot surprises and the ending is spoilingly revealed in that paragraph. It would spoil the novel for those who haven't read it.

    That review reminds me of those unbearably obnoxious, academic-written pseudo-"Introductions" to novels that are better read as Afterwords because they are chock-a-block full of spoilers and pre-mature revelations of plot details.

    3 · March 1, 2015

    • Mark

      The rest of the review is actually fine; the problem is just that one gratuitously spoilerish paragraph.

      March 2, 2015

  • Khairul A.

    Just finished the book... interested to know what both men and women have to say about it... pls let me know if/when the date is finalised, I'm ok with both months

    1 · January 12, 2015

    • Mark

      It won't be in either month - Rachel has said she'll organise a meetup for it sometime this year, but she's already selected other books for February and March, so she will have to pick some other month in which to read this book. The description above was written a year ago by Sophia, whom I think was hoping to organise a meetup for it herself back then.

      January 17, 2015

    • Sophia K.

      Hi, yes Mark's right. I heard Rachel saying that Lolita would be one of her picks this year. I'll bring it up with her again at our next meeting. I'm still definitely looking forward to a discussion.

      February 27, 2015

  • Jennifer Chua Poh N.

    Anyone can tell what's the book about and what year it's set in? Sounds intruiging. Thanks

    December 10, 2014

    • Nirali

      The best way to read it is to jump in without a clue. If you don't find the first chapter intriguing enough maybe it's not meant to be. But just to give a wee bit of background, it's set in the US and is the story of a twisted man that is beautifully told!

      3 · December 19, 2014

    • Sophia K.

      Good synopsis!

      1 · February 27, 2015

  • Anu

    I read this book a while ago and remember feeling intrigued by the themes and characters of the book. Would love to be a part of the discussion.

    1 · January 3, 2015

  • Khairunnisa A.

    Love to join, I m ok with either months

    December 10, 2014

  • Ashwini

    I have read it years ago, would be interesting to go back to it and see how different it is this time. I am travelling in Feb, will attend the meetup if I'm in town.

    December 10, 2014

  • Akhila

    this book would make for a great discussion!

    October 21, 2014

  • sab

    did you do this yet? any chance you'd like to do it again?

    September 22, 2014

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